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Florida Braces for Direct Hit by Catastrophic Hurricane; Florida Residents Advised to Prepare for Possible Evacuation Warnings. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2019 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All important 8:00 advisory from the National Hurricane Center on hurricane Dorian. You can see the map right there. All of Florida is on high alert. The storm is headed right at the state. This is easily the strongest hurricane at this point headed towards Florida, the east coast, in nearly three decades. Dorian got even stronger overnight. It is now a category two hurricane, almost category three with winds approaching 110 miles per hour. By the time it makes landfall it is on track to be a catastrophic category four hurricane.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN ANCHOR: We're also starting to get a better picture now just where Dorian could come ashore over the Labor Day weekend. Flooding and life-threatening storm surges are now a major concern. As much as a foot of rain could fall in some areas as Dorian is forecast to slow down significantly over Florida after it's made landfall.

BERMAN: As we said, the 8:00 a.m. advisory just in. That means we have to get to meteorologist Chad Myers with all the new data. Chad, what do you see?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: John, Hurricane Hunter just found 110 miles per hour, so now that 130, 140 doesn't really seem like a stretch anymore if you're already 110 and you still have two or three days to go. But the more important part is that they truly found significant deepening of the low pressure. It went down, went down so much that we're almost to that rapid intensification threshold. It'll take more hours for that to actually get there, but we will still see this intensification all the way to 140 miles per hour by Monday night.

This probably comes onshore somewhere in the southern half of Florida before daylight on Tuesday. But it's the onshore slowly and then turns to the north slowly. And that's the rainfall problem. To the north of wherever this makes landfall, the surge could easily be eight to 12 feet. We already have watches in effect for the Bahamas. That's why we got the intermediate advisory. We didn't get one yesterday because there were no watches, but now we do have watches, so that's helpful a little bit.

We'll zoom you in here to the European and the American model. They both have landfall very, very close, not that far really from about West Palm or just north of there. But a very scary forecast with the European is keeping it very close to shore. Keeping it intense, over 100 miles per hour all the way up to east coast. The American model or the GFS takes it over towards Tampa, kind of kills it off to about 75 miles per hour, not that that won't make damage. But it will spread the rain out a little bit more and not scour the entire east coast of Florida with 100 mile per hour winds or greater for days and days.

There you go, rainfall accumulation with the European model problem 10 to 15, and the American model some spots over 20 inches. We have surge, we have wind damage, and we have inland flooding, all three will happen with this storm. This isn't a one trick pony. This is everything, guys.

BERMAN: And it's going to last days. Chad, thank you very much. People in Florida, some have begun to take notice already. Residents stocking up on food, water, emergency supplies. CNN's Rosa Flores live at Home Depot in West Palm Beach. What does it look like there, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's been a lot of speed shopping this morning, John. I have to say that a lot of people very kind this morning as they shop with their fellow shoppers. You can see that people are taking resources so they can protect their homes, plywood, chain saws, circular saws, generators, fans, items like that. State officials have asked residents to have at least seven days worth of water, food, medicine. And those items are flying off the shelves across this state. There are long gas lines as well.

Governor Ron DeSantis declared a disaster -- a state of emergency, rather, for all 67 counties in Florida. That of course allows more gas to flow into the state. And so we're hoping that those gas lines, people in those gas lines actually get some gas. No evacuations have been ordered at this point in time, but people are preparing just in case they need to evacuate.

From talking to people here in West Palm, a lot of them hoping not to evacuate. The ones I've talked to say that if there is an evacuation order, they do plan to evacuate. And of course, John and Julia, that's what officials always ask for people to heed the warning, and if evacuations are issued, at that point in time for people to respect those and to go ahead and evacuate.

BERMAN: Listen closely and now is the time to prepare. Rosa Flores, thank you for being with us.

Joining us now is Ken Graham, the director of the National Hurricane Center. Ken, thank you very much for being with us. We just had the 8:00 a.m. release. Tell us what you are looking at right now.

KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, a couple of things. Just even looking at the first images from the NOAA satellites, look at the visible. Getting healthier. We're starting to see the structure get better and better in terms of getting stronger. And we've reflected it in the forecast, a little bit stronger in the latest advisory and the latest 110 miles an hour. [08:05:01] But the big thing from the forecast is we had to slow it

down. There is a slower movement. Slow is never our friend. So the slower with the movement, the more time to get stronger, and the more time that we have to have rainfall in the storm surge. Look at this. That's Monday, that's Tuesday, that's Wednesday. That slow movement is not our friend.

CHATTERLEY: So we're talking actually, at this stage, then, not even seeing landfall until Tuesday at this stage, feeling the effects by Sunday, night but landfall now Tuesday.

GRAHAM: Yes, absolutely. So you think about the landfall. But here's an important thing to always remember, and we're communicating that so much. This is the area of tropical storm force winds that stems 90 miles away from the center. So we could start feeling the impacts of the hurricane with tropical storm force winds as early as we're looking Sunday night. So that is the most likely time. So Sunday night, we have today, we have tomorrow, and part of Sunday to get ready before we start seeing the impacts on Sunday night and into Monday.

BERMAN: And one of the things we know from hurricanes, Ken, from covering them so often, it's not the wind. As dangerous as the wind is, it's not the wind that takes the most lives. It's the water. And there's something of a triple threat with the water between the rain, the king tide, and enormous storm surge. What are you seeing?

GRAHAM: It is. Historically we talk about that, 90 percent of the fatalities in these tropical systems is the water. But when we close our eyes we always think of the wind. So we've got to think water as well. Look at the rainfall forecast. That's one of the dangers here. Some places could get six or 10, maybe up to 15 in some isolated spots. So the rain is a big factor because of the slow movement. But the other one is a storm surge. Our storm surge unit hovering as we speak to start modeling some of those values we're going to have. But I can tell you historically a category hurricane like this could produce a 10-foot plus storm surge.

CHATTERLEY: And Ken, just talk us through again how long is it expected to remain over land at this stage? We're talking days even once it makes landfall as it potentially progresses north here.

GRAHAM: That's one of the big issues, that slow movement just doesn't help us. So we're talking about some tropical storm force winds arriving Sunday night into Monday. So let's really look at this. So this is 2:00 a.m. on Monday, start feeling the impacts of the trop tropical storm force winds. That's Tuesday, that's Wednesday. So the core in the center over the central part of Florida could start still seeing those hurricane force winds even Wednesday. But even around that you get an expansion, you get the storm to start expanding once it starts weakening a little bit. So the tropical storm force winds could last for several days.

BERMAN: And I always ask this, Ken, because people watch these maps and they look at the cones and all these things, and they wonder, well, maybe it'll miss us completely. But is there anything at this point some white light, white meteorological light that's going to swoop in and keep Florida safe from this hurricane?

GRAHAM: I wish that very much, but I think this is one of these situations like a lot of these storms, you can wiggle that track around a little bit, you can move it around, but either way we're going to seeing those impacts. Even if you have a little bit different track, it's not about that track. So many times we tell people don't concentrate just on the center of that line, don't do it. Think of it as large, think of it as big. So if it's slow movement, it could change a little bit. But at this point there will be impacts in Florida.

BERMAN: Thank you for emphasizing that, thank you for coming on. And I really do think the message here is get ready, this is going to be big, because every single map we're looking at there with Ken looks bad.

CHATTERLEY: The whole area looks bad. If you're in that area, you just have to prepare, and you have two days, it seems, to do it.

BERMAN: Joining us now is Miami fire rescue chief Joseph Zahralban. Chief, thank you so much for being with us. We've known you for some time. We've covered storms with you before from hurricane Irma up until now. As you look at hurricane Dorian and you see these forecasts, what concerns you the most?

CHIEF JOSEPH ZAHRALBAN, MIAMI FIRE RESCUE DEPARTMENT: Well, as has been said before, there is the wind concern, which we always watch. But water is really where we see a lot of the hazard, whether it be due to storm surge or due to sheer rainfall. That remains one of our primary concerns, and especially in Miami where we have all of that compounded by the king tides where we have higher water levels than we normally see. It remains a significant concern for us.

BERMAN: Now, you're not talking about evacuations at this point, are you?

ZAHRALBAN: We expect to begin to hear about evacuations sometime today, later today, and early into the morning. The Miami-Dade County emergency operations center will in short order begin to identify some of those evacuation zones if the storm remains on its existing track.

BERMAN: And many of those will be based on the water in the low-lying areas. Who knows? Depending on where the storm is headed it could be Miami Beach, it could be other areas. Another specific concern to the Miami metropolitan area is the cranes. The huge amount of construction activity means these cranes are in the air. What's the status?

[08:10:01] ZAHRALBAN: Yes, we have a tremendous amount of construction going on in Miami, and the Miami economy has been booming. As a result, we have cranes throughout the downtown area, he Brickell area. And as we have seen in hurricane Irma, we actually had a failure of two of these cranes. Now, these cranes are designed to, what we call, wind vane in these high winds so that they turn with the storm. But again, the cranes are not necessarily designed for the types of wind speeds that we could potentially see, so it's always a concern. So one of the things we've done is we've been able to have the ability to geofence a certain area and inform residents if we have a concern about a crane within their area. We can actually, as we did in hurricane Irma, even direct people to move from one side of a building to another.

BERMAN: And one of the things about this storm is it could really slow down over the peninsula and inch its way up, which means hurricane force winds, the pounding rain could be there for some time, which hampers your efforts. What message to do you want to get to people about getting ready now, because there might be an extended period of time where you can't reach them if they're in need?

ZAHRALBAN: Absolutely. Preparation is key, and we ask our residents, our citizens, to help us. Help us give us the time necessary to get to you.

Now, we will do everything within our power. We've even gone to the extent of buying additional vehicles that will allow us in certain circumstances to get out in higher winds than we normally would if the emergency dictates so. These vehicles are armored vehicles. And we will do everything within our power to get to you, but we ask you to do your part as well. And that is be prepared, heed the warnings, and give us the time we need in order to get to you.

BERMAN: One of the things we also know from having been there with you before, and it's worth reminding people, you live there, and your family's are all there. What's that like to have to take care of your loved ones and your own people while you're trying to take care of the entire state?

ZAHRALBAN: Well, this storm in particular is very challenging. It's challenging because, as you can see, the accuracy of the forecast is within about a 48-hour window. So we have a responsibility to protect the city of Miami. But because we run a federal task force, we also have a responsibility to protect the surrounding public. So for us, it's really three fold. It's prepare to deploy to an area in need, prepare to protect your own city, and also prepare to protect your families. And that is never an easy balance, and we as an organization do our best to provide as much assistance to our employees as possible because as a fire chief, when they come to work I need 100 percent dedication and focus from them, and the only way I can get that is if they feel their families are safe. So we do everything possible to assist them in achieving that goal.

BERMAN: Chief Joseph Zahralban, thank you so much for being with us. Thank you for the work you do. Please let us know how we can help get the message out. You have your work cut out for you over the next few days.

ZAHRALBAN: We do. Thank you, sir.

CHATTERLEY: We keep saying it, prepare. But how do you prepare for what could be the strongest hurricane to hit Florida's east coast in a quarter of a century? We'll ask the former mayor of the state's capital city after this.

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[08:17:40] BERMAN: Florida this morning bracing for a direct hit by a catastrophic category 4 hurricane over the holiday weekend.

Joining us now, the former mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, Andrew Gillum.

He's now a CNN political commentator and he was the Democratic nominee for governor of Florida.

And we're also going to bring in some other guests in a second.

But, Mayor, first to you and you were mayor last year when Hurricane Michael hit. Obviously you've been there for all the other storms over the last few years. As a leader when a storm like this hits, what's most important?

ANDREW GILLUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, first of all, I want to wish my governor, Governor DeSantis, and his administration, and my fellow Floridians, Godspeed as all of us make preparation for the impact of this storm.

I will tell you as mayor of the city of Tallahassee, I drew a short straw. My city hadn't been hit by a hurricane in over 30 years, and during my one year -- my four-year term, we got hit twice, by Hermine, first, followed by Hurricane Michael. And the first thing that I would warn people is, we have a sense of lulling ourselves into safety and to thinking because we're not as rehearsed at these storms that we can always ride it out and it will be OK and life will turn immediately back to normal.

But, listen, trees will come down, power lines will come down. Obviously, there is flooding. You know, people make the effort of are driving over, you know, covered roads which is a horrible decision knowing that so many deaths are caused by frankly the aftermath of these storms largely to do with flooding.

So, as a leader, I think you've got to be present. You've got to be present. You've got to very clear with your instructions. And quite frankly reinforce it on every platform.

It's not good enough to just talk on television. You've got to be in people's Instagram and their Twitter feeds and so on and on forth, because that's how decentralized information is now.

CHATTERLEY: There's a big level of uncertainty about where this goes. We've got a couple of days now. Do you think people have learned the lessons of perhaps not evacuating when they've been told to or perhaps not preparing? What do you want to see people doing right now?

GILLUM: Yes. I mean, that's the challenging part of this storm is the level of uncertainty. And it's true for many of the storms that have hit our state. Michael, for instance, you know, came into the Gulf of Mexico last year, you know, gained speed from a category 1 traveling over the gulf and made landfall as a category 5 hurricane. [08:20:11] People were simply not prepared for the level of damage.

The storm surge alone literally flattened whole areas of the panhandle.

And so what I would hope people would do is take it seriously. The truth is that you do need a bit more certainty before evacuation because what we saw happen previously is people evacuated into danger zones rather than away from it.

And so, follow instructions your local officials, local government and state officials.

CHATTERLEY: Yes.

BERMAN: Mayor Gillum, thank you so much for bringing this (ph).

Some people always asking, why do you go we stand in the middle of a hurricane, why do you focus so much on this? Because people need to know what to do because people die. This is very dangerous and you have to listen to your local and state authorities here.

And, Mayor Gillum, you helped us end send a very important message there.

Stay with us, because we're going to bring in Bill Kristol, director (ph) of "Defending Democracy Together", and Sabrina Siddiqui, White House correspondent for "The Guardian U.S." and a CNN political analyst.

We're going to talk politics now. And I do want to talk about this political story that's developed over the last 24 hours about Joe Biden telling a story on the campaign trail where he seems to conflate at least three different versions of giving a medal to a veteran.

"The Washington Post" did an extensive fact check here, Sabrina, and the vice president got the details of the story wrong who medaled, although he has given a medal to someone who did not want a medal in the past. The question going forward, though, is, is there any reason to think this has an impact on the Biden candidacy, given what we've seen up until now with other questions about the Biden candidacy? Voters don't seem to matter about these -- don't seem to care so much about these types of things this time.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's certainly been a lot of attention recently on former Vice President Joe Biden's gaffes and whether he is prepared to be the nominee of the Democratic Party if it feeds into this notion that he is perhaps prone to stumbling on the national stage, it does draw a spotlight on his age and whether or not he still has it in him for what is going to be a very vigorous campaign.

But to your point, thus far there really hasn't been any impact in term of his standing in the polls. He continues to hold a commanding lead over the Democratic field and I think it's because people already know Joe Biden and most of the Democratic electorate and the American electorate for that matter already has an opinion of Joe Biden going into this race. And there's also a question as to whether or not Donald Trump has really changed the standards when it comes to some of these issues.

If you're talking about falsehoods or misstatements, "The Washington Post" which did this reporting on Joe Biden also has a tracker of the falsehoods that Donald Trump has said since taking office. And it tops 12,000.

CHATTERLEY: Yes.

SIDDIQUI: So I think people a little bit more forgiving when it comes to Biden and other candidates in the field.

CHATTERLEY: Bill, coming here, do you agree with that? Because our polling suggests that ultimately Democrats want someone that can beat Donald Trump. Will they forgive Joe Biden and continue to forgive Joe Biden whatever it takes here?

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: I'm not sure whatever it takes. I think they'll forgive him for this particular, you know, conflation of different stories.

I mean, one interesting thing about it times and people have told many antidotes that aren't quite right. Of course, usually, they're told in a way that's self-serving for the politician. Hillary Clinton I think said she landed under fire in Bosnia and she didn't, and there are many instances of people exaggerating their own roles in various crises and their own roles in passing legislation and so forth, and telling antidotes that reflect well on them.

That's really not what Biden did, I've got to say. I mean, he tells -- he conflates and garbles some details, makes it a little more dramatic, but he is -- this is not -- it doesn't make him look any better, you know what I mean? He's not the hero of the story. It's about how wonderful our young 9/11 generation warriors are and how selfless they are, and how moved he was to see this.

So I think it does tell you something about Joe Biden, actually. Not that he's incapable of exaggerating his role either like any politician, but I don't think it reflects badly on Biden. It's such a contrast -- Donald Trump really at the same time I think, right, vented phone calls from Chinese leaders to make it seem as if he was having some success in his trade war with China.

I mean, the president of the United States reporting about fictitious phone calls from the leaders of another very important country, that actually has real implications on the world stage.

BERMAN: Let's --

KRISTOL: The Biden antidote doesn't really.

BERMAN: Let's talk about the world stage for a second, Bill, because I know you care about this deeply. The idea that the Trump administration might block $250 million to Ukraine, why does that concern you? KRISTOL: Well, because it's very much in Vladimir Putin's interest.

And we know at the summit, Trump argued for Putin to be there. I mean, the degree in which he very consistently acts in Putin's interests, and excuses Putin's misdeeds.

[08:25:03] There's just a fresh story about an assassination in Germany of a Putin critic, a dissident from Chechnya, who seems to have assassinated by a Russian giant. This is happening on the soil of a NATO ally, Trump has said nothing, I suspect will say nothing.

So, yes, we have a president who's pro-dictator in general and pro- Putin in particular.

CHATTERLEY: The timing of this also, Sabrina, pretty painful here in light of the comments the president made just this past week at the G7, talking about how to bring Russia back into the fold here.

SIDDIQUI: Absolutely. And this aide is intended to directly confront Russian aggression in the region. And so, there's sort of two issues occurring simultaneously. One is that President Trump continues to try to ingratiate himself with Vladimir Putin. He's increasingly cozying up to the likes of Vladimir Putin where U.S. allies are much against reinstating Russia into the G7 and are much more concerned with measures that Russia has taken to interfere in democracy both in Europe as well as here in the United States. And that's the other piece of this.

Instead of punishing Russia for its meddling in the 2016 election, the president is still almost rewarding Russia through his policies and through his actions. And that's what's really striking because his own intelligence chiefs have said Moscow is still actively trying to interfere here in U.S. elections. I think the most sobering part of former special counsel Mueller's testimony before Congress is he said they're doing it as we sit right here, and yet the president for whatever reason his motivation still being unknown intends on still trying to appease Vladimir Putin.

CHATTERLEY: Yes.

BERMAN: Sabrina, Bill, Mayor Gillum, sorry we didn't get back to you, but let me tell you please stay safe and keep your family safe over the next few days, the entire state of Florida --

GILLUM: I appreciate that.

BERMAN: -- needs to be bracing for things right now.

I appreciate you all being with us.

CHATTERLEY: All right. Join CNN for an unprecedented Democratic presidential town hall on the climate crisis. Ten candidates taking to the stage to address this critical issue. That's next Wednesday, starting at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

BERMAN: Hurricane Dorian could strike anywhere from the Florida keys to Southern Georgia. We're going to speak to a member of Congress that's been in the bullseye of this storm. That's next.

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